As the Dutch turn their backs on populism, it is a comforting thought to many that the UK and the US were last year consumed in some uniquely Anglo madness that resulted in Brexit and President Trump, but that assumption will be tested again this year in France and New Zealand, both of which have elections and both of which share declining trust and an increasing sense that their ‘systems are broken’.
In France, recent polling shows Marine Le Pen has a decent chance of making the final two in the Presidential election; with a ‘France first’, anti-immigration; anti-globalisation; anti-elites message that is just an attractive accent away from Trump and Farage’s successful pitches. Pollsters say that final hurdle is too big and they are probably right (which would make a nice change).
So why include sensible, egalitarian New Zealand in this? There is no defining issue like membership of EU, the economy is broadly successful and the only populist demagogue runs a party that polled 7% last time out.
The answer is that the underlying trust situation is similar and, well, from small acorns…
Of the 29 markets Edelman polls, New Zealand is now the 17th most (or least) trusting. Government was the only institution to see a rise this year but remains under 50% and media collapsed by 9 per cent and is the least trusted of the four. NGOs dropped and business is now trusted by less than half of general population respondents. That much is not so unusual and does not mark New Zealand as an outlier.
More significant is the trust gap between the mass population and the informed public (*) which this year rose in New Zealand by 8% to 20 points. The US has a 21 point gap; the UK a 19 point gap and France 18 points.
For the first time this year, Edelman supplemented these basic ‘trust-in-institution’ questions with questions designed to highlight the underlying ‘belief in the system’. 47% of Kiwis believe that system is failing them.
And then we asked people about a list of fears and concerns, and whilst on corruption New Zealand, un-surprisingly, scores low; on globalization; erosion of social values; immigration and the pace of innovation, kiwis score at the global average with globalisation being the lead ‘concern’ and immigration being the lead ‘fear’. And this in a country where the benefits of both globalisation and immigration are consistently talked up by the two leading political parties.
Perhaps in the absence of a truly galvanizing populist politician or single-issue cause, these conditions will remain below the political line. Perhaps, given what we have dubbed the echo-chamber effect, that is wishful thinking in the longer term.
28% of New Zealanders will support a politician they know and trust even if they exaggerate the truth; 56% do not regularly listen to people or organisations that disagree with them and they are four times more likely to ignore information if it appears to support a position they don’t believe in.
The self-selecting effect of social media; the increase in fake news and the substantial and continual deterioration in the funding and journalistic resources of New Zealand news media outlets (evidenced by the 9% drop in trust this year) have had their effect it seems.
The feedback from the near 25o people attending presentations of this data by our New Zealand partner company Acumen Republic in both Auckland and Wellington is that there won’t be a populist surge during the elections later this year and that certainly feels to be true given the tone of political debate. But some of the classic conditions for populism exist and elections take place every three years here and so there will be opportunity to test that assumption again soon. Here is the New Zealand Herald’s take on it.
Until then, ‘she’ll be right’!
(*) The three defined groups we measure in the Trust Barometer are 1) General Population = 6 years of data in 25+ markets Ages 18+, 1,150 respondents per country; 2) Informed Public = 9 years of data in 20+ markets, represents 13% of total global population, 500 respondents in U.S. and China; 200 in all other countries, must meet 4 criteria (ages 25-64, tertiary educated, top 25% of household income per age group in each country, report significant media consumption and engagement in business news) and 3) Mass Population = All population not including Informed Public which represents 87% of total global population